Child Loss Grief

5 Things Not To Say To A Grieving Parent

Child Loss
Written by Stacey Skrysak

Child LossIn 2013, I found out I was pregnant with triplets. My husband and I were in shock, but thrilled at the news after dealing with infertility for years. And it didn’t take long for the comments to begin. When people found out, the usual remarks followed: Triplets?!?! What are you going to do? 3 kids at once?!? Glad it’s not me! After mastering my response (and sometimes an evil look), I figured that was the worst of it. But little did I know, I would be facing far worse comments after two of my triplets passed away.

On June 23, 2013, I gave birth to my triplets, more than 4 months premature. My daughter, Abigail, passed away that same day; my son, Parker, died just shy of two months old. Before then, I didn’t know much about child loss; it was uncharted territory. Like most people, I wouldn’t know how to respond or what to say if a friend’s child passed away. But two years later, I have found that some things are better left unsaid. These comments come from a good place and I know people mean well, but they sure do sting. Here are my Top 5 things not to say to a grieving parent:

 Everything happens for a reason

It’s a cringe-worthy comment for those of us who lost a child. Sometimes, there is no rhyme or reason why things happen in life. A parent should not outlive their child. I don’t know why my body couldn’t handle my pregnancy or why I went into labor at 22 weeks. This phrase goes along with another I often hear: “God only gives us what we can handle.” I remember talking with my childhood Rabbi the night before my son passed away and I asked her, why me? Her response is something I now live by every single day. She said, “God doesn’t give us only what we can handle. He helps us handle what we’ve been given.”

They are in a better place

Excuse me? Instead of comforting, this is a phrase that makes me feel down in the dumps. I longed to be a parent for so many years. Children are meant to be in the loving arms of their parents. I think I speak for every grieving mother and father when I say, we would give anything to hold our babies again.

At least you have one survivor, Count your blessings

So you’re telling me that having one survivor makes up for losing the other two? I like to think of myself as a positive person. But even 2 years later, my heart still aches for Parker and Abby. And on the most difficult, dark days of grief, it’s hard to “count my blessings.”  Yes, I am blessed. I have a gorgeous miracle child who is the light of my life. But, Peyton should be playing with her brother and sister in our home, not just waving to their pictures and blowing kisses to heaven.

You are still young, you can have more children

It doesn’t matter whether our biological clock is ticking. Many people have no idea what couples go through to have a child. Some can’t have children of their own, others may face years of infertility or miscarriages. And for people like me, trying for more children may be something too scary to even think about. I came close to death after delivering my children, that’s enough to scar me for life.

I don’t know how you do it. I couldn’t imagine losing two children

Some days I don’t know how I do it either. But, we learn how to live with it. We learn a “new normal,” and in those tough moments, we celebrate that we survived the day. This comment is a difficult reminder of our grief and the children who were sent to heaven.

Child LossSo, what should you say to a grieving parent? There are no words to take the pain away, but simply letting that person know you are there for them is more than enough. For me, the best thing someone can do is to talk about my angels. Say Parker and Abby by name and don’t be afraid to ask questions about them. While they were only here for a short time, they left a huge imprint on this world. I love talking about my angels, and simply hearing someone else mention them by name, is enough to wipe away the grief and warm my heart for days.

 

Everyone responds to grief differently, and I understand that people try to be kind. But losing a child is like nothing else. These are some of the things you should never say to a grieving parent.

About the author

Stacey Skrysak

Stacey Skrysak may not be a native of Nebraska, but she called it home for many years. You may recognize her from her days as a morning and noon anchor on NTV in Kearney. She liked Nebraska so much, she even married into a Cornhusker family! These days, Stacey lives in Springfield, Illinois where she is a news anchor for WICS-TV. Stacey and her husband are parents to Peyton, their surviving triplet, who was born more than 17 weeks premature. Abigail and Parker are their triplet angels watching from above. Through her heartbreaking experience, Stacey has become a voice for dealing with grief, infertility and life with a micro-premie. Her triplets have touched thousands of lives around the world, thanks to Stacey’s blog “Perfectly Peyton”. Stacey looks forward to sharing the trials and tribulations of balancing work and home life, all with a little humor thrown in.

22 Comments

  • This is spot on, Stacey. I hate the “everything happens for a reason” comment SO MUCH. Also, when my son was dying of cancer, the whole “I could never do what you’re doing” line of comments really got to me. We do what we have to do because we love our children, no matter where they are. Hugs and love to you.

  • I too have grieved for a child. I had a stillborn daughter Abigail Elizabeth10 years ago. I have a son, my 1st born–he was 7 when I had my daughter but as you said nothing can replace the child that died. I say so tired of everyone saying “I am so sorry” I would rather they said nothing. I read somewhere–you don’t get over the death of child, you learn to live with the pain and the hole the child left. God Bless. Tammy Remke

  • Thank you for this piece. I have chills from reading it. You state exactly what is in my heart as well. I hope that at least some people will read this and reconsider the usual things that they say to grieving parents. There is just nothing that compares to losing a child.

    • There’s not even a word for it. Also there is no differentiation between losing a stillborn or a child full grown. The pain is the same.

  • I I had a stillbirth, Kara Alexandra Meehan , on Feb 1, 1986. Not a day goes past that we still think of her. I had the misfortune of giving birth on the side of the Beltway on the ride to the hospital. I still have trouble when I see the news that someone gave birth in their car and everyone celebrated. The hospital told me the best thing to do is to get pregnant asap. I did just that. And my son Ryan was born the following Valentines Day. I over compensated with both my older son, who happened to witness the birth of my daughter and Ryan. I was very protective of them and I was at the mall every Saturday with them to make sure they got whatever they wanted. Two years later I had another daughter, Caitlin. No, she was not a replacement baby. I had a miscarriage the year before she was born. I talk about my stillbirth to my kids , even when they were small. I believe they understood what happened and know why I am like I am. I would have had many more but it took a toll on my body. I still get weird when I pass the spot on the road where I gave birth. I used to go out of the way so I would avoid the spot. After all these years I still grieve for her, knowing she is waiting for me in Heaven gives me solace. I still wonder what it would have been like to see her grow. You never get over something like this…no matter what anyone tries to tell you!

  • When someone says “I can’t imagine”, I want to say, try. For one minute pretend your last conversation with your child is your last, you won’t see their smile, hear their voice, get another phone call or text. For one minute give it some thought and then be thankful – because that one minute, that one second of unspeakable saddness and loss is my life.

  • “They are in a better place now” was and still is THE most hated remark people would say to me. NO asshole a better place is alive and with me.

  • I, too, have lost a very much wanted child and your comments are spot on. My loss was in April of 1988, but there is not a day that passes that I do not think of my tiny little son too small to survive his journey into the world. For years after, e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. else in my life was colored by this loss, even though I had a blue-eyed, curly-haired baby girl a year and a half later. One of my closest friends at the time was a therapist who said to me four months after the loss, “Are you STILL mourning? I would have thought you’d be over that by now!” Her insensitivity stung more deeply than I can say and it was other mothers – often strangers _ who helped me through this most difficult time of my life. Sometimes, it was just a gentle pat on my forearm or a knowing look that helped. Another was a mother whose baby and mine would have been the same age who let me hold her son in my arms. Your post will help so many women ~ thank you for writing it.

  • This was posted on The Compassionate Friends website. My third (of 4) daughters died in 1997. I miss her every single day. Everyone told me how great it was that I still had 3 daughters to live for. That comment upset me so much. Of course I had 3 daughters, but the hole left by losing a daughter was not smaller because I had other children. When I saw this quote, I realized that this is exactly what I should have said to people who made that comment. You can’t imagine how I feel? Then think how you would feel if you had to live without one of your children.

  • Thank you…I just lost my daughter 3 weeks ago I was 28 weeks pregnant…and I’ve heard everything on this list and all it does it make me more upset and angry…I am sharing this hopefully it will help

  • This article really touched my heart and hit home. We had quads born prematurely and 3.5 months early and they passed away within 24 hours. I still can’t believe some of the things people said. We had a tremendous amount of support and that was such a blessing but some of those stinging comments echo in my mind. If rather someone not say anything than something incredibly insensitive.

  • The one that hurt the most when my 19 year old son was murdered was “I know exactly how you feel and it will be ok.” You do NOT know exactly how I feel because you were not part of my mother-son relationship. And it will NOT be ok. I will never be the same. Thank you for sharing this post.

  • I lost my 24 year old son on June 23 of this year and I understand that people don’t know what to say or how to comfort me. The comments that bother me the most are any that begin with “You need to…”; “…eat, …sleep, …focus on your other kids, …have some fun to get your mind off things”, etc. In my mind my retort is always “No, what I need is my son to not be dead!” Please don’t tell a grieving parent what he or she needs.

  • I’ve heard all of these and more. The one that stung the most was when my own mom said to me only four months after my son died ” you’re not over him dying ye? Its been four months”.

  • Many people really don’t know what to say. Is it really better as suggested below to just say nothing and ignore a person’s loss? Words are always going to be inadequate and often awkward. Putting aside the truly hurtful examples in the post and comments, is it really better to say nothing?

  • I lost my sister in 2008 and many of these are comments I hated to hear as well. Beautifully written Stacey.

  • I agree 100%
    Nothing makes it better, it just make a one angry and changes the way you look at people. People truly show where their heart is. It’ll be 3months on Sunday since my fiance And I gained an Angel, and lost our 29weeker Autumn at 5months old.

  • My heart goes out to you. You’ve nailed the most idiotic things people could say. However, I didn’t have a problem with that so much as what a friend did. As my 27-year-old lay dying (and I badly needed someone with me) she took flight, leaving me at my most vulnerable. Months later, I confided his last words to me and told her I buried a lock of my hair with him. Her reaction? Laughter. Yep…I think I would have preferred one of the idiotic things to that… (I think she just doesn’t handle death well. And her actions made me stronger.)

  • Thank you for this. All of these points resonate with me – I lost my youngest (Emma wasn’t quite 3 years old) to cancer in 1997. Almost 20 years, and there are still times when missing her is a physical thing. I remember NEEDING to talk about her and say her name. “God doesn’t give you…” was always a bad one for me, my best friend at the time told me “God has a purpose” and I almost smacked her (excuse me, but f*** God’s purpose) and “I don’t know how you do it” always felt like some sort of judgment – it felt like perhaps I was colder and harder that the person saying it, because I was able to cope, when in fact, I only looked like I was coping. The pain does, actually, get somewhat easier to bear as time goes on. Peace be with you.